Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, March 21, 2019

‘The Wolves’ brings soccer and female empowerment to the Greenberg Theatre

The play runs Feb.14-16 and features an all-female cast

‘The Wolves’ brings soccer and female empowerment to the Greenberg Theatre
The company of "The Wolves" in uniform.

Not all students are up early on a Sunday morning. But for the cast of AU’s production of “The Wolves,” they’re already hard at work, rehearsing in the lobby of the Greenberg Theatre. As director Colleen Sullivan looks on, actors engage in a “flocking” exercise, in which each actor takes their turn leading the group through improvised movements, dashing around the space as one unit, one team and one family.  

“The Wolves” features an all-female cast and new Department of Performing Arts (DPA) professor Tara Giordano as the Soccer Mom. An intensely physical play, it’s about high school girls on a soccer team as they warm up before their games and go through the game of life. 

Sullivan, who is making her Greenberg directing debut with this production, said it’s “more than just a soccer play.” 

“[‘The Wolves’] challenges women to use their bodies, and to talk about their bodies, and to be physically strong and physically weak,” Sullivan said. “We see breakdowns of bodies, and that’s fascinating to me too: how the body and the emotions are inextricably linked.”

During the audition process, Sullivan cast the ensemble of actors she wanted to work with before she assigned them specific roles. Actors said that this focus on ensemble taught them the value of listening, team-building and understanding their own physical and emotional health. 

Understanding the bodies and emotions of their characters was essential for the cast. Senior Audra Gale plays #13, a character that is “into her wackiness” and often breaks silences with funny quips. 

“I’m not usually as close to my character as I am to #13,” she said. “The lines feel comfortable, but getting out of my body and into hers when they seem so close is definitely hard as an artist. But it’s a new challenge that I’m excited for.” 

For others, the connection wasn’t evident at first. Junior Catherine Ashley, who plays the coach’s daughter and team captain, #25, originally thought she related to #13’s character more. She later realized how similar she was to the team captain’s character after weaving in her own personal life experiences to the story.

“I coach tennis and I speak to people like that, and I didn’t even realize that those words could sit in my voice, so similarly to how I actually speak,” Ashley said. 

Ashley said that she’s enjoyed exploring #25’s emotional journey. 

“It’s interesting to watch #25 grow into herself and grow a possible relationship with someone outside of school, watch her flower as a queer person and try to honor that and do whatever I need to do to make it fruitful and honest,” she said. 

With intense physicality at the heart of the play, actors have faced the challenge of staying fit for the show and staying healthy in general. Some do warm-ups outside of rehearsals and others add intense workouts to their daily routine. 

For junior Grace Walker, who plays the sarcastic, “too-cool-for-school” #7, she has to keep her body in check as she balances her Type 1 diabetes with the show. Walker said she thought she wouldn’t get cast in the show since the roles require actors to really exert themselves.

“It’s scary, but Colleen is really understanding about it, asks me how I’m doing and communicates with me,” Walker said. 

For many of the actors, doing this show has also combined the arts and athletics for the first time since high school. Many of them played sports like soccer, volleyball and track before coming to AU. Senior Danielle Gallo, who plays #14, #7’s quiet, insecure best friend, won three state championships for soccer in New Jersey but had to give it up in high school in order to do theater. 

“Coming back to it is so invigorating,” Gallo said. “Doing this show is a full embodiment of mind, heart and body.”

The actors said they have also enjoyed working with Giordano, a professional actress who plays the Soccer Mom and who started teaching at AU this year. Several actors said she motivates them to improve their craft. 

“We’ve never gotten the chance to perform with our professors before and it’s such a delight and a true learning experience to watch a professional just do this, especially in this setting where we are meant to learn,” said senior Anna Shafer, who plays the brainy, thoughtful #11. “It’s one thing to learn it in class, and entirely another thing to be present and on an equal base with your professor.” 

As they head into performances this week, the cast and crew hopes that the play finds an audience. 

“It’s a good contemporary show and it speaks about women and their experiences in a way that I think a lot of other shows don’t,” Walker said. “All the characters in this show pass the Bechdel test, which is very rare.” 

The Bechdel test is a measure of representation for women in media, with three criteria: First, the medium must have at least two women in it. Second, the two women must talk to each other. Third, they must talk about something other than a man. “The Wolves” has this in spades. 

Carolina Chaimovich, who graduated from AU last year with a theatre arts degree and came back to assistant direct this show, said that she thinks it’s really special for AU audiences to see actors playing close to their age and telling a story that captures the genuine experiences of young women on stage.

“Every single actor could be playing the role they’re playing in a professional production,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful story about friendship, power, strength and young women. It’s a lot about what it means to be a part of a team, literally but also figuratively, they’re just there for each other.”

In the end, Sullivan said that it’s all about the team and what they put into it. 

“The play is for this team to win, it’s theirs to own,” she said. “What I always look for is the moment where the actors take over and they own it. That it’s theirs.” 

“The Wolves” runs Feb. 14-16 at the Greenberg Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here

dignacio@theeagleonline.com


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